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Britain’s petrol supply ‘improving’ as Johnson denies Brexit is root cause

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Britain’s petrol retailers have said the supply to the pumps is improving but more than one in three filling stations were out of fuel on Tuesday and the government predicted that queues would continue for a number of days.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the situation was stabilising and called on motorists to hold back from buying more fuel than they need. “We are starting to see situation improve, supplies coming back on in the normal way,” he said. “I urge everyone to go about their business in the normal way.”

Although the supply of petrol to the pumps has improved since the weekend, when more than two in three filling stations had run out, there were long queues at forecourts across the country on Tuesday. Labour leader Keir Starmer joined calls from unions for key workers to be given priority access to fuel stations to ensure that they could continue to get to work.

“The government has reduced the country to chaos as we crash from crisis to crisis. And the government is not gripping this. I spoke to the haulage sector this morning, to the businesses that are absolutely in the middle of this, and they are beyond frustrated.

“And these were their words – they said, it’s a government that is denying there’s a problem, then blaming somebody else and then coming up with a half-baked plan. What I would do is give priority to key workers this week, and I would issue enough visas for lorry drivers for long enough. At the moment, there aren’t enough visas,” he told the BBC.

Issuing visas

The government has agreed to issue 5,000 three-month visas for lorry drivers from the EU but Britain needs tens of thousands of drivers to make up for those who have left the country, retired or are awaiting driving tests. Frank Huster, chief executive of the German Freight Forwarding and Logistics Association, said drivers who left Britain after Brexit would not be tempted back with short-term visas.

“The labour market on the European continent has gratefully accepted these workers – they are now lost to re-employment in the United Kingdom, ” he told Reuters. “The new UK visa regulations – especially the temporary ones – will not change this.”

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said the visa scheme was derisory and exploitative and showed the arrogance of Mr Johnson’s government.

“It is hard to imagine a government that has made a more derisory attempt to solve a problem of their own creation,” he told the Senedd in Cardiff. “The idea that people are going to be willing to uproot themselves and come back to this country for a matter of weeks only to be told by the UK government they will be discarded again on Christmas Eve when they no longer have a use for them is simply … the arrogance of it is breathtaking.”

Mr Johnson has dismissed that there is any connection between Britain’s supply chain problems and Brexit but he indicated on Tuesday that he expected shortages to continue for a number of months.

“What we want to do is to make sure we have all the preparations needed to get through to Christmas and beyond, not just in supply for petrol stations but all parts of the supply chain,” he said.

“We want to make sure that as the economy continues to recover and we continue to see the global recovery suck in demand of all kinds, like the lorry drivers, that the UK is prepared.”

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Prosecution of former British soldier over Troubles killing defended

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Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service has defended the decision to prosecute British army veteran Dennis Hutchings over a Troubles shooting.

Mr Hutchings (80) died in hospital in Belfast on Monday after contracting Covid-19, leading unionist politicians to raise concerns that the case against him had been allowed to proceed.

The former member of the Life Guards, had pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974. He also denied a count of attempted grievous bodily harm with intent.

Mr Cunningham, a 27-year-old with learning difficulties, was shot dead as he ran away from an army patrol near Benburb. People who knew him said he had the mental age of a child and was known to have a deep fear of soldiers.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson had challenged the prosecution service over what new and compelling evidence led to the trial.

Deputy director of public prosecutions Michael Agnew said: “The PPS [Public Prosecution Service] decision to prosecute Mr Hutchings for attempted murder was taken after an impartial and independent application of the test for prosecution.

“The test for prosecution requires a consideration of whether the available evidence provides a reasonable prospect of conviction and, if it does, whether prosecution is in the public interest,” Mr Agnew said.

“Whilst a review of a previous no prosecution decision does not require the existence of new evidence, the police investigation in this case resulted in a file being submitted to the PPS which included certain evidence not previously available.

“In the course of the proceedings there were rulings by High Court judges that the evidence was sufficient to put Mr Hutchings on trial and also that the proceedings were not an abuse of process.”

Mr Agnew said the PPS recognised the “concerns in some quarters” in relation to the decision to bring the prosecution.

He added: “We would like to offer our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr Hutchings, and acknowledge their painful loss.

“However, where a charge is as serious as attempted murder, it will generally be in the public interest to prosecute.”

“Our thoughts are also with the family of John Pat Cunningham who have waited for many decades in the hope of seeing due process take its course.”

Mr Hutchings had been suffering from kidney disease, and the court had been sitting only three days a week to enable him to undergo dialysis treatment between hearings.

He was charged with the attempted murder of John Pat Cunningham in Co Tyrone in 1974.

Mr Hutchings died at the Mater Hospital on Monday while in Belfast for the trial. Hours earlier, the trial had been adjourned for three weeks in light of his health.

Mr Donaldson said he had been shocked when the decision was taken to bring the case to trial. “He has been literally dragged before the courts,” he told the BBC.

“Dennis is an honourable man, he wanted to clear his name, he was prepared to go despite the risk to his health but I do think this morning there are serious questions that need to be asked of those who took the decision that it was in the public interest to prosecute this man.”

Mr Donaldson said Mr Hutchings’s actions had been investigated at the time.

“So it is not a question of this being something new, and therefore the question I have for the PPS is what was the new and compelling evidence that meant it was in the public interest to bring an 80-year-old in ill health on dialysis at severe risk to his health before the courts, and I think that is an entirely valid question that I am entitled to ask this morning,” he said.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie has called for a “full and thorough” review into the decision-making of the Public Prosecution Service. – PA

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How to value your home

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Since Revenue disclosed details of its property tax revaluation campaign back in mid-September, households around the State have started to fret about how much their home is worth.

Where just a few short weeks ago, people were talking jubilantly about how much the house across the road had sold for, now there is a fear that exuberant house prices will cause a sharp rise in property tax bills.

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‘Full house’ as property asking prices increase in all regions of UK in October

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Every region of Britain saw house asking price records broken in October, as the national average jumped nearly £5,000. 

It was the first time that every region broke asking price records since March 2007, according to Rightmove’s monthly house price index.

The property portal said this ‘full house’ of price increases was an ‘extremely rare event’.

The typical asking price for a home has jumped in all regions of Britain, and now sits at a national average of £344,445. This is according to Rightmove's house price index

The typical asking price for a home has jumped in all regions of Britain, and now sits at a national average of £344,445. This is according to Rightmove’s house price index 

The typical price of a property coming to market jumped by 1.8 per cent or £5,983 compared to the previous month, the biggest rise at this time of year since October 2015.

Asking prices are now at an average of £344,445, an increase of 6.5 per cent compared to October 2020. 

The North West and Wales both saw especially strong increases in asking prices amounting to 2.3 per cent. They reached £232,639 and £237,830 respectively. 

The South West and London both saw a 1.9 per cent monthly change, with prices reaching £359,906 and £650,683.  

The number of sales being agreed was up more than 15 per cent, compared to the same time in 2019.

Prices also increased in all property market sectors. First-time buyers saw asking prices up 0.8 oer cent to £210,672, while second steppers saw an increase of 1.4 per cent to £315,486 and those at the top of the ladder saw a 1.7 per cent rise to £630,819. Those figures exclude Central London, however. 

Rightmove put the increase down to buyers wanting to secure their new homes ahead of a potential base rate rise, which is being predicted by some for the end of the year. 

If interest rates increase, mortgage rates will go up from their current record lows.

This is already happening in some cases as lenders move to pre-empt the rise. 

The North West and Wales saw the biggest asking price rises. They increased 2.3% in a month

The North West and Wales saw the biggest asking price rises. They increased 2.3% in a month

Ups and downs: Asking price increases for the whole of the UK in the past five years

Ups and downs: Asking price increases for the whole of the UK in the past five years

The stamp duty holiday had previously been driving activity and house prices, but this expired at the end of September.

The continued price rises offer an opportunity for those who are downsizing, or do not need to buy another property, to sell up to cash out.

Tim Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property data, said: ‘Competition for property for sale remains hot this autumn, with average prices jumping by almost £6,000 in the month. 

‘Although more properties are coming to market, the level is still not enough to replenish the stock that’s being snapped up. 

‘Consequently, new price records have been set across the board, with every region of Great Britain and all of the three market sectors of first-time buyer, second-stepper and top of the ladder hitting all-time highs.’

Asking prices reached new highs for buyers at both ends of the market ¿ and in the middle

Asking prices reached new highs for buyers at both ends of the market – and in the middle

Also driving up house prices is the lack of new housing stock coming to the market, though Rightmove said the situation was slowly improving.

Its latest weekly snapshot showed that the number of new sellers coming to market was down on the same period in 2019, but only by 3.2 per cent.

Bannister added: ‘This ‘full house’ is an extremely rare event, happening for the first time since March 2007. 

‘The stock shortages started after the first lockdown, and they look set to continue with the underlying housing market fundamentals remaining strong, and an additional incentive to buy and fix your mortgage interest rate before a widely expected rate rise.’

In these ‘full house’ market conditions, with many homes being snapped up quickly and sellers having a choice of competing buyers, those buyers who have already sold their own property subject to contract or have nothing to sell are being favoured.

This has led some to put their own home on the market before they have identified a new property.  

Bannister said: ‘2021 has been the year of the power buyer, with those in the most powerful position to proceed quickly and with most certainty ruling the roost over other buyers who have to sell but have yet to come to market. 

‘One agent’s analysis that 87 per cent of their sales agreed were snapped up by buyers who were already in a position to proceed is fairly typical of reports from many agents.’ 

Despite the hot market, most homes still sell below the asking price. 

According to the latest Halifax house price index, the typical sale price is £267,587

Director of estate agent Benham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, added:  ‘With the market remaining particularly buoyant, those entering with a property to sell are pricing high and this has caused yet further growth where asking prices are concerned.

‘While initial asking price expectations are perhaps a little over-optimistic, to say the least, a lack of stock to satisfy demand means that homes are selling fast and for a very good price.’ 

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